2017-11-16 / Front Page

Future of Hills Beach Fire Station to be determined

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The Hills Beach Fire Station, built in 1981, is owned by the Hills Beach Volunteer Firefighters Association. However, the city still owns the land on which the station is built. Closed since 2003, the station’s fate is uncertain. Association members would like to repair the building’s structure but city staff are reluctant to spend any money on it. (Grant McPherson photo) The Hills Beach Fire Station, built in 1981, is owned by the Hills Beach Volunteer Firefighters Association. However, the city still owns the land on which the station is built. Closed since 2003, the station’s fate is uncertain. Association members would like to repair the building’s structure but city staff are reluctant to spend any money on it. (Grant McPherson photo) BIDDEFORD – The Hills Beach Fire Station has been unmanned and only used for storage since 2003 so city officials have made the first step in deciding its fate.

An amended order was passed by the city council 7-1, Thursday, Nov. 9 to leave the discussion open to discontinue use of the Hills Beach Fire Station located on the corner of Hills Beach Road and Heron Cove. John McCurry was the lone vote in opposition and Victoria Foley was absent. Members of the volunteer Hills Beach Volunteer Firefighter Associationraised funds to build the station and completed its construction in 1981. Until 2011, the Hills Beach Association used the station for meetings and social gatherings.

Between 1981 and 2003 on call firefighters parked a fire engine at the Hills Beach station and responded to local fires. The land is owned by the city, but the building itself is owned by the Hills Beach Volunteer Firefighter Association.

David Anderson, president of the Hills Beach Volunteer Firefighter Association, would like to see the station used as a community center similar to the Biddeford Pool station.

“In 1980 the city of Biddeford granted the volunteer fire rescue unit a quick claim deed to the land for construction of a fire station With the understanding that the premise would forever be used as a fire house,” Anderson said. “From the perspective of the Hills Beach community we are willing to work with the city to see what we can do to make some transition.”

The Biddeford Fire Department has an antique fire engine, seasonal and surplus equipment such as hoses and pipes stored in the station. Electricity, water and heat have been disabled to the building.

In a letter to the council from Fire Chief Scott Gagne, he wrote that the exterior porches and roof need to be replaced and the second floor does not meet occupancy codes.

“As the requests for service for the fire department continues to rise and the calls to our coastal district increase, this location does not serve as a good location for a coastal fire station,” Gagne wrote. “It is located oneand a-half miles from Pool Street and you must drive through the University of New England campus to reach the station. It is an average drive of four minutes from Pool Street to this station.”

Gagne suggested turning the building over to the Hills Beach Association, selling the property or keeping the current arrangement. The parcel is .26 acres and appraised at $488,100.

City Manager Jim Bennett did not want to invest in the station.

“Staff recommends not putting money into it,” he said. “We believe we should turn that station back to the Hills Beach Association and give us a year to use it for storage. It’s related to a second question about how to deal with response time issues in the coastal area.”

In the Aug. 25 edition of The Courier, Gagne said the last time the fire department increased staff was in 2005. That year the department received 2,078 calls. In 2016 that number climbed to 5,398.

Councilor-at-Large Marc Lessard said one of the possibilities for the station could be to demolish it and use the land as parking for beach access. The property the station is built on does not have direct beach access, but is surrounded by beachfront property.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton wanted to leave the decision regarding the station up to its owners.

“Let Pat Boston make the decision,” he said. “Do whatever she tells us to do, simple as that. She knows what’s best for Hills Beach. I’m going to support this order to get the ball rolling.”

Pat Boston, president of the Hills Beach Association, spoke before the council to clarify this was an order to discuss options, not make a final decision.

“The order is to authorize the beginning of a conversation about what would happen with that building,” she said. “It doesn’t assume the ultimate conclusion.”

Anderson said a nonprofit limited liability holding company could be formed to take ownership of the station and fundraise for its repairs.

“We’re trying to figure out the right path here,” he said. “It’s a good building, we don’t want to tear it down and have it end up a vacant lot. We’re hoping we can find a way to keep it for future generations.”

Contact staff writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

Return to top